She's Leaving Home


Those among you who are familiar with the greats of literature and have trouble finding a girlfriend will remember the powerful conclusion to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga: the hero Frodo, his task of saving the world from evil complete, wearied by the grievous wounds sustained in the execution of his quest, boards a ship to travel with the Elves into the West, never to be seen again in Middle Earth.

I have no doubt that I was not the only one who was reminded of this scene on hearing this week the sad news of Pauline Hanson’s imminent departure from these shores.

Like Frodo, Pauline embarked on a long and harrowing quest to defeat the forces of darkness — or in her case, political correctness.

Like Frodo, she found the going tough, but was supported at crucial moments by a faithful servant — Sam Gamgee/David Oldfield.

Like Frodo, she made a huge sacrifice — in Frodo’s case, his ring finger; in Pauline’s, her privacy and peace of mind — but ended up prevailing and earning the thanks of a grateful people, before launching a second career as a ballroom dancer. In this analogy, you will note, Gollum probably equates to Bob Brown. Or Todd McKenney. One or the other.

The point is that, like Frodo, her work done, she is now moving on. She taught us all she could, and we are now left alone to try to put into practice all the lessons we learnt, to leave the nest that Pauline made so warm and safe for us all these years.

But before we spread our awkward, stubby wings, I think we should take a moment to look back on the career of Pauline Lee Hanson and reflect on all she has done for us as a nation and as individual human beings.

Cast your mind back to 1996.

Remember how uncertain and afraid we all were? We’d finally escaped from our abusive relationship with Paul "now-look-what-you-made-me-do" Keating — but our relief was tempered by lingering fears about our future. John Howard had just become prime minister and we were frankly uneasy about what he’d do next. He seemed so erratic — constantly putting on Kevlar and running off to Sydney to hang out with this shady "Janette" character. We didn’t even know what Muslims were then so we had yet to glimpse his unique strengths.

But Pauline, she … she reassured us. Remember her maiden speech? She came before us "not as a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of knocks". Remember how you felt when you heard that? "Wow!" you thought. "I’ve had my fair share of knocks too. Finally, someone who understands."

And the great thing is, she never became a polished politician. So many people, once they rise into the public eye and become subject to magazine cover stories and publicists and spin doctors, lose the common touch. They develop a certain arrogance, a certain aloofness, a certain ability to speak comprehensible English. Pauline never did this. She remained the same plucky, hard-working, plain-speaking, Asian-hating salt-of-the-earth fish-fryer she always had been.

Now, I say "Asian-hating", and a lot of people think that this particular trait of hers made her in some way "racist". Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, maybe some things could be further from the truth. A bit. But it was unfair nevertheless.

What did she actually say, after all? "I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians." Well, is that an unreasonable fear? Have you ever been swamped by Asians? It is by no means pleasant. It can even be fatal. And the thing about being swamped by Asians is, the more you struggle, the more the Asians suck you down. Your only hope is to try to lie flat and crawl your way to safety. This is the mistake Schapelle Corby made.

The point is this: If there’s a chance of us being swamped by Asians, isn’t it good that someone alerted us to it while we still had a chance to do something about it? Back in 1996, as Hanson pointed out, more than 40 per cent of migrants were Asian and they were incessantly forming ghettoes, following their own cultural customs and gaining medical degrees at an alarming rate.

And yet today, thanks to Pauline, we have staved off the threat and are not swamped by Asians. We are, of course, swamped by other things — cooking shows, etc — but not Asians, thanks to Pauline.

That speech was what pundits like to call a "watershed moment" for reasons that are not immediately apparent. It was a moment in which the game changed, in which everything was crystallised and we knew that we no longer had to lie down and take it: the black armbands; the reverse racism; the relentless march toward globalisation; and the stifling political correctness that meant the decent working folk of Australia could no longer call a spade an Abo without being accused of insensitivity.

If there was one thing Pauline never was, it was politically correct. Of course, there were a lot of other things Pauline never was — and there’s not really time to delve deeply into the theories of brain development here — but out of all the one things she never was, the most one thing she never was, was politically correct.

And if that sounds slightly incoherent, that was Pauline: slightly incoherent, but still able to get her message across with a mixture of moxie, commonsense and steamy, irresistible femininity that will cause me for the rest of my life to become sexually aroused whenever I see short red hair or a race riot.

I’m not claiming it was all smooth sailing. Like all of us, Hanson had her trials and tribulations, her moments of darkness and despair: the loss of her seat; the deregistration of her party; her time in prison; Dancing With The Stars; and of course, that terrible day when we discovered her life was in danger.

Remember? Remember that tape where she said, "If you are seeing me now, it means I have been murdered"? And how it turned out she hadn’t been murdered, and yet we were seeing her now anyway? Remember how chilling and confusing that was? For a while some of us thought she had performed a rather elaborate magic trick, something that only increased our admiration for her. When we realised the truth, it brought us to tears, realising how close we had come to losing her.

What if she had been assassinated? What would we have done? Wept, that’s what. Wept, and screamed, "Why?" And not just as in, "would anyone bother?" but also in the sense of "Why are the greatest always taken too soon?" It’s a question we find ourselves asking through our tears today, the fact she is not dead making her decision to emigrate somehow even more poignant.

Let us not dwell on her so-called "decline". It did not, after all, come about because people stopped loving her, but rather because the mainstream of politics had become so thoroughly Hansonised that she was seen as superfluous. Even today, you can see the truth of this: in the way the government gets tough with asylum seekers; in the way politicians demand that immigrants assimilate; in the way Barnaby Joyce begins vibrating wildly and shrieking random numbers when asked to formulate economic policy. Pauline is everywhere, still.

I myself was too young to vote for her when she ran for parliament, but her impact was so profound that it influenced my voting patterns for years. Even now, with no Hanson on the ballot paper, I honour her legacy by losing count of my preferences and getting the pencil stuck up my nose.

But she’s almost gone now. It’s hard to believe. We took her for granted for so long. We just assumed she would always be there. "No need to take care of her," we said, "to nurture her and make her feel wanted. Whenever we need her to pop up and denounce Africans or whip up a batch of potato cakes, she’ll be waiting."

But she won’t, people. She won’t. She’s going. She’s had enough. Enough of the tall poppy syndrome. Enough of the critics. Enough of the chardonnay-swilling elites who’d rather spend taxpayers’ money on installing Blu-Ray players in prison cells and handing out free heroin to Aboriginal paedophiles than give enterprising patriots a fair go.

A fair go. All she ever wanted. We couldn’t find it in our shrivelled, atrophied, Robert Manne-addled hearts to give it to her. But, unable to hold a grudge, she helped us anyway. She showed us the way. She turned on the lights. She unlocked our chains, removed our blinkers and let us breathe as free citizens once again. She finally gave white people an outlet for protesting against their historical oppression and awakened us all to the potential fatal consequences of continuing to allow ourselves to be ruled by weasel words and ATSIC. She struck back, and in doing so freed us all to strike back likewise.

You freed us, Pauline, and we will live forever free because of you. But now that you’re leaving, can we go on? Can we maintain the rage, sustain the fire without your warm, feisty, slightly peahen-like presence nearby?

I’m not sure, Pauline. I’m not sure at all. And yet, I seem to hear on the breeze a faint voice, telling me, "Be strong. Carry on. I am an indigenous Australian. Don’t mind Christian Muslims. If this government wants to be fair dinkum, don’t let it handle my grocery shopping."

And I whisper back, "I’ll never forget you, Pauline." And I know … we’ll be okay.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.